The U.S. Department of Justice describes a hate crime as “the violence of intolerance and bigotry, intended to hurt and intimidate someone because of their race, ethnicity, national origin, religious, sexual orientation, or disability.” The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimated the number of hate-crime victims in the U.S. to be over 250,000. And, though we cherish our right to free speech in this country, we also acknowledge that we are not entitled to say anything we want when it can cause others to be harmed. When those who have governmental authority, such as police, or who command wide attention from the public, such as candidates and pundits, express contempt for any group, it emboldens the bigots to crawl out from beneath their tree stumps to openly express their prejudices because they believe they have tacit approval from those in authority. Princeton economist Alan Krueger suggests one significant cause of hate crimes is the “official sanctioning and encouragement of civil disobedience.” Hate crimes occur when those in authority create an atmosphere of hate through their speech.
When presidential candidate Ben Carson said, “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of the nation,” because it was “incompatible with the Constitution,” he made Muslims targets by implying they were incapable of being loyal Americans—an opinion he continued to promote even into a recent CNN interview. Because of him, Muslims are now a little less safe as they walk home. Perhaps even more baffling is that Carson has a book coming out soon that is his common-sense approach to understanding the Constitution. Sadly, his comments are an attack on, rather than a defense of, the Constitution. Article VI of the Constitution states that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” Thomas Jefferson and the boys would certainly be aghast to hear Carson’s Bizarro World interpretation. Carson’s attitude certainly echoes the attacks on John F. Kennedy by Norman Vincent Peale and other Protestants who argued that Kennedy’s Catholic faith was incompatible with being president.